In recent decades, the rise of new technologies has forced organisations to reinvent and innovate. As a result, creativity has been central to producing compelling value propositions for customers, employees and different user groups. It has also been crucial in harnessing differentiation and working towards more purposeful organisations.
Neel Arya, TPC Leadership UK Associate, an expert in digital transformation, sustainability and creative challenges, says “Creativity is necessary now in terms of digital innovation and in terms of how we reduce water consumption, lower emissions and how we create more sustainable ways of working — the real zeitgeist of today.”
But in a virtual environment where team meetings can often become just reporting vehicles, facilitating creativity can be a challenge.
How can we infuse creativity into a virtual setting?
“To be creative we have to be deliberate about wanting to be creative and that requires setting up the environment,” explains Neel. “Inherently creative people — artists, musicians — have a process that tends to be incredibly structured and ordered.”
First, consider the human side to that process. You need to create a virtual space that allows people to take risks because, as Neel explains, creativity is ultimately about jumping into the unknown.
Next, define a guiding question, or a problem to be solved. Be clear about the context — why it’s important, what could happen if it’s not resolved — and unravel what it is you’re aiming for. That may be a new structure, template or system. Bring the virtual team together, invite them to answer questions, explore ideas and encourage them to co-own the guiding question.
Neel suggests using the related worlds concept to aid the creativity process. “Look into different creative worlds — improvisational jazz or comedy for example — and see what can be imported back into your world. The brain tends to get stuck in ‘rivers of thinking’ when existing neural connections carry the thought process down well-trodden paths, but what we want is for people to jump into different perspectives.”
This process may happen away from the virtual setting. It’s the job of the team leader to bring the team back together to consolidate thinking using appropriate digital tools such as Mural or Miro.
Neel explains that virtual settings can decrease our humanity. That can be overcome by allowing divergent thinking outside the virtual arena, but creativity really emerges when teams are brought back together for constructive conflict and criticism. “It is this convergence that transforms a collection of bad ideas into successful creative ones,” says Neel. “Criticism is fundamental to the creative process.”
The key is to focus on creating a human, safe space where teams can explore ideas and invite criticism within structured phases.
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