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?

How many of you have achieved something this year that you didn’t think possible in such a short period of time? Where was the project plan? The steering committee? The risk assessments? We were forced to adapt, innovate and grow and we did it by digging deep with our colleagues and working towards a common purpose. While it was scary, for many, it felt good as we united around a problem and there was no such thing as a bad idea.  In this article, we learn from the science of social physics and identify 5 critical conditions to innovation in 2021.


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 into 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.


Zurich has one of the fastest growing GDP in the world and the study of social physics (the combination of social science and big data) has demonstrated why.  Consistent innovation is at the heart of this growth and it is linked to the infrastructure of the city which influences the way people interact.  This study identifies two critical factors to create a context of innovation:

1) Engagement – the opportunity to interact with a variety of people from all areas

2) 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 and allowing them to better mix and develop.

This unique combination is facilitated in Zurich by high speed trains connecting all communities.  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 we have experienced this year and for many, this also means the need to reinvent the way we operate.  What can the common cause in your organisation be that brings a diverse group of people together? How can we use our tech communication platforms as the equivalent to a super-efficient transportation system to better connect people across business lines, expertise and locations?

We recommend these five different practices to leverage the creativity across broader groups in your organisation:


  1. Reduce the amount of time spent on ‘updating’ each other in meetings – this clogs up the diary, is not a good use of time and is adding to tech fatigue. Instead create a habit of communicating updates via dedicated chat channels on platforms such as Teams or Slack that people can read in their own time.  Using chat channels prompts a more casual, less formal style of communication which replicates our usual conversation without blocking out entire diary time slots for large groups of people.
  2. 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. As the team leader, regularly engage on those insights chat channels to encourage team members to share ideas and reflections that have popped up for them through the course of their week
  3. 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.  Here are some suggestions of questions you can ask your team in these specifically designed brainstorming sessions:
    • What relevant shifts to our activity can we anticipate in the next 3 to 6 months?
    • What have you heard / seen as insights into the current economic outlook?
    • How will our stakeholders & clients’ needs change?
    • What material factors will be different in 2021?
    • What are our competitors doing that we can learn from?
    • What does the organisation need from us now?
    • How does our team need to pivot in 2021?
    • How should we best focus our time in the next 4 weeks?
    • What should be our priorities & what can we de-prioritise?
  4. Run a challenge where team members commit to reach out and create connections with a broad and diverse range of external stakeholders to gather insights to be shared back to the team
  5. Dedicate time together on one on one personal, deeper catch ups to develop trust and the conditions for healthy debate which is the birth place of innovation



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