Generating The Essential Sparks of Creativity Whilst Working in a Virtual World

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By Julie Thompson

September 29, 2020

How can we create the sparks of creativity that used to come from the magic of being in the room together?

What can we learn from ‘Social Physics’ – the combination of social science and big data that will help us to enhance innovation and creativity during this period of reduced incidental interaction between colleagues?

We are hearing consistently from our clients, that the level of engagement and interaction within teams has increased this year which is tremendous news.  We also hear that the quality of interactions across teams and in to other parts of the business have reduced and it’s obvious why and how this has occurred.

This is more concerning than it may appear.  If we take inspiration from what big data is telling us about what leads to thriving cities and communities, we know it comes down to two factors:

  • Engagement – the opportunity to interact with a variety of people from all areas
  • Exploration – where people are able to seek out a range of ideas from a diverse selection of people.  Introducing new ideas and norms to the social group, allowing them to better mix and develop

A balance of both is required for groups to flourish but it’s hard to achieve.  An example of this from a city perspective is Zurich.  People live in smaller, less expensive areas outside of the city where they can create a sense of community.  They also have fast, efficient transportation, taking people in to the city where they have access to a more diverse range of experiences. The factors combined have a direct, positive impact on GDP.

Our ability to innovate is critical with the monumental shifts that we are experiencing this year and for many, the need to reinvent the way we operate.  At the same time, we are hearing that people are fatigued and diaries are busier than ever as the need for every conversation turns in to a calendar entry.  What can the common cause in your organisation be that brings a diverse group of people together and how can we use our tech communication platforms as the equivalent to a super-efficient transportation system to better connect people and create the equivalent of water cooler conversations where ideas form quickly and instinctively.

Here are a small selection of our ideas about how you can go about continuing to create opportunities for engagement and exploration in our current ways of working:

  1. Idea #1 Create specific ideation boards or dedicated ‘insights’ channels for team members to share questions or insights they have had throughout the week that could be relevant to the team
  2. Idea #2 – Schedule regular strategic conversations where questions are specifically designed to get the team going on innovative ideas. Let people know in advance that this is the purpose of the meeting
  3. Idea #3 – Run a challenge where team members commit to reach out and create connections with broad a diverse range of external stakeholders to gather insights to be shared back to the team
  4. Idea #4 – Reduce the amount of time spent on ‘updating’ each other in meetings – this clogs up the diary and is not a good use of time and is adding to tech fatigue – communicate updates via dedicated live channels on platform such as Teams or Slack
  5. Idea #5 – Instead focus time together on one on one personal, deeper catch ups

Inspired by the book ‘Social Physics’ by Alex Pentland – How Good Ideas Spread: The Lessons from a New Science