I have recently reflected that, perhaps unconsciously initially, but latterly more deliberately, it has become a strategy of mine never to lose contact with those people who have inspired, taught and improved me during my career.
Be it bosses, peers, colleagues or just acquaintances, I am now fairly convinced that people with ideas, clear values and the ability to tell stories, are essential in trying to do the right things in the right way.
This link to a broader network, feeling able to draw on a web of connections where you don't have to book in the PA to chat, or carve out your professional query from checking in on the kids/dog/baking/choir practice, seems increasingly to have a role for those of us within health and care.
Offering opportunities for this web to connect in person, for its own sake and no wider agenda, are important. Over the last couple of years I have helped facilitate this, and earlier this summer was able to make use of my Unexpected Conversations grant at one such event.
For me, unexpected conversations in these settings have ranged from discovering a new way to help GPs working together to address tricky questions about the real aims and ambitions of their collaboration, to admiration for a colleague's childhood starring role in a 1980s pop music video.
"This link to a broader network seems increasingly to have a role for those of us within health and care."
Through a suggestion from a friend, this summer's event included a 'problem-solving booth' - set up across the room from the buffet, alongside the Prosecco, with two folding chairs and a cardboard sign. It was developed by Owls, a social enterprise that works in partnership with numerous organisations across health, local government and the arts.
The problem-solving booth brings people - who don't usually know each other - together to talk about an issue and have an unexpected conversation. One chair is for the 'helper', the person listening to the issue, and the other for the 'helped', the person describing their concerns. The aim of the booth is that people swap roles regularly as we all have potential to assist others in addressing their problems, as well as having issues of our own and needing others' advice.
My friends and colleagues who took part in the booth at the event found it surprisingly delightful to have been suddenly useful to someone else, or to have been trusted to provide advice. Although they weren't expecting to share a problem, most felt comfortable doing so and some have reflected on what they discussed long afterwards, a kernel of a new idea or solution having been planted.
It was an unexpected treasure for many, and I'm not sure if the alcohol and nibbles had anything to do with it, but it doesn't really matter – it was a great idea. I'm thinking about how this sort of thing might be powerful where I work, and I encourage you to learn more about the problem-solving booths and how they could help more unexpected conversations happen, for the better, in your world. Find out more on the Owls website.
And if we have ever worked together and have lost touch, I hope we can track each other done and get the chance to grab that 'must catch up' chat in person, sometime soon. I'll definitely learn something, and it'll create another little connection in the cosmos, another tiny neuron in the network that keeps new thinking alive. Plus, I'm probably organising something soon, and it would be great to have you along.