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Curiosity in a Lockdown

Family looking in a light shop window while dark outside

One year on from a blog I wrote on Curiosity and how it could be utilised to good effect in learning during lockdown, I have some reflections to share based on my own lockdown experience. 

I wrote the original article ‘The Case for Curiosity’ in an article for HR magazine in 2017 (reproduced here). Curiosity plays a vital part in learning. At the start of the first UK Covid-19 lockdown, I participated in a webinar in which I suggested that inertia that some people experience in the lockdown could be overcome by a simple technique.  Start with a question about anything and then go wherever your internet search takes you by clicking on links that appeal to you. This meandering of the mind offers up surprises, tangents, can tap into memories, make connections between things you know and new ideas and opportunities to pursue.

I didn’t realise just how long we would be dealing with the effects of a global pandemic, nor how working from home would change my behaviour

I followed up the webinar with a further short blog in April 2020 in which I suggested that by sharing something you discovered with another person this offers even more opportunities and so the learning goes on.  There are two important features of this tip – the first is being open to ideas and the second is connecting with others.

In April 2020, like most people I know, I didn’t realise just how long we would be dealing with the effects of a global pandemic, nor how working from home would change my behaviour.  Individuals’ experience of lockdown vary enormously and I feel fortunate to have had a relatively benign one.  I don’t intend to generalise here or underplay the difficulties of others, only to record my own observations on how my own natural curiosity has been affected.

Perhaps a good place to start is to think about how I used to work prior to lockdown which entailed a regular commute to an open plan office, co-located with my team members. These were key factors and stimuli for my curiosity, for example:

  • Listening to the radio on my daily commute to and from work
  • Regular contact with my team providing ample time to share diverse perspectives and experiences on our work and personal lives
  • Serendipitous meetings or encounters with other people at work and outside of home
  • Observing strangers 
  • Picking up free newspapers and seeing adverts and posters advertising events, products and companies that I have never seen before

The list could go on and on. I contrast that with daily work routines of the last year and most do not happen now, or do in a much more limited way.  I still have regular online contact with colleagues – though there is much less spontaneity.  It takes effort to be in touch outside of the planned meetings.  Being “confined” to my local area has shrunk my world considerably.  I have far less exposure to the places and strangers when travelling to and around London and other parts of the country or the world.  My exposure to information, events and even advertising has shrunk accordingly. The exception is the increase in exposure to online advertising and messaging via social media which has grown. But rather than increasing the range of ideas and subjects, algorithms ensure that I am kept in a loop based on analysis of my search terms – more of the same, rather than offering up new possibilities.

Working from home has meant much more time working at my screen.  This has involved more online meetings I found after a couple of months my capacity and enthusiasm for spending leisure time researching or exploring online was reduced.  I have rediscovered novels and reading provides more of a contrast to watching television (and another screen).  I have used my curiosity to discover new (to me) writers and genres.  

Curiosity is a vital aid to learning but it may just also be a support to our wellbeing

When gyms closed, I substituted other forms of exercise for my exercise classes.  Another loss of connection with others whose passing comments, experiences and invitations stimulated new experiences and ideas to follow up.  Walking and jogging are for me mostly solitary pursuits however I have explored much more of my local area on foot finding footpaths, bridleways, woods and local landmarks to explore and investigate.

The ability to have side conversations with colleagues during coffee, before the start or after the end of meetings has meant less informal exchanges, networking and reinforcing connections. Trying to reach out online requires more self-motivation and effort to stay in touch.  Chance encounters in online meetings are not the same; you can hover in the lobby of an online room with others but there is no opportunity to strike up a conversation.  

Has the lockdown made me any less curious?  I don’t think so.  However, I have noticed that the need to adapt to a new way of working and living has shifted the focus of my curiosity along with previous priorities. I am beginning to understand how social isolation curtails more than the spread of a virus. If you let it, those things around us that have been shut down, begin to shut down parts of ourselves. Curiosity is a vital aid to learning but it may just also be a support to our wellbeing.

This blog was written by Liz Moody, Director of Executive Education

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Executive Education
Faculty of Business and Law
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
MK7 6AA
United Kingdom

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