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Virtually Innovative – Perry Timms

A blog post by Perry Timms, Founder & Chief Energy Officer – PTHR

For Competo ahead of their Virtual Hackathon 20 and 21 October 2020

 

As we head into potential further lockdown in some parts of the world as the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 hits many cities and regions across the world, we are starkly reminded of how long our mid-pandemic phase really is. We are far from ‘out of the woods’ as the saying goes.

With it, comes the inevitable reiteration of the lacking/missing nature of dispersed working and its inferiority to proximity-based co-located working with other people.

‘Remote working is just not the same as being with others’ is a regular one.

I won’t dismiss this as wrong. There is clearly some social genetics within us that crave the company and closeness of other human beings. As it has been since time immemorial.

What often follows statements like ‘…not the same…’ declarations comes the loss of innovation through serendipitous conversations we have when in person. The collision of people who suddenly burst into creative thinking.

My own experience of innovation is rarely in the works kitchen or around the fabled water cooler

I can neither confirm, nor deny this is the case. Yet my own experience of innovation is rarely in the works kitchen or around the fabled water cooler. It comes when you are with others talking about, say, your inbound new work and all of sudden someone says ‘what if we…’ and there’s an idea from nowhere that may even be adjacent to, and not directly about, the subject you met to discuss.

Or in the town hall meeting, where the Chief Operating Officer shares the challenges with the struggling new product line and someone suggests ‘what if we…’ and again, an innovative solution is born.

So can we innovate when we’re not physically co-located?

Of course, we can. It may not seem like it’s as conversational or a natural occurrence but I do think we’re overselling the random social elements of work as ESSENTIAL for innovation. When we’re on a Zoom or MS Teams call, we’re together, just in physical separation, and therefore distance. Innovation may still occur in those spaces and invariably does in my experience.

So can we innovate when we’re not physically co-located? Of course, we can. It may not seem like it’s as conversational or a natural occurrence but I do think we’re overselling the random social elements of work as ESSENTIAL for innovation. When we’re on a Zoom or MS Teams call, we’re together, just in physical separation, and therefore distance. Innovation may still occur in those spaces and invariably does in my experience.

Tim Berners-Lee – the ‘father’ of the World Wide Web is quoted as saying this: ‘Innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make.’

Notice that Tim doesn’t say that innovation only happens in serendipitous physical locations. Just that the act of innovation is a spontaneous, non-programmed and unprompted act and is itself serendipity.

So can we be serendipitous online?

Well, it’s not difficult to see why people think the programmed nature of online calls doesn’t facilitate serendipity. Yet within those ‘frames’, there’s nothing to stop you being innovative. You’re exchanging information like you would in a real-world setting. You’re having thoughts as you would. Making notes as you would. And therefore, the conditions are similar except you’re sitting alone. I’ve not seen anything that says you have to be within touching distance of other people to be innovative.

In fact, in recent twitter conversations about this very topic, most people said they get their best ideas ON THEIR OWN. In the shower, walking the dog or whilst out jogging.

So maybe there’s something about being sat down that impairs innovation? Perhaps. Kinetic movement and the heating of the brain is said by neuroscientists to stimulate blood flow through the brain and spark novel and creative thinking. Yet some of the world’s most gifted artists and particularly painters were sat at an easel and we hardly call them untalented copycats do we?

So it will be  – sat in front of our screens – on 20th and 21st October for Competo’s first-ever socially-distanced, remote and virtual HR Hackathon.

Where we will work in sprints and in small teams; from our various locations; and innovate. Because we’re creating the space for us to be artistic, innovative and creative through a series of sprints that will rev up our imaginative engines (our brains).

Whilst we may miss the hi-fives, shared marker pens and movement, we will create a space that is framed around ideas. Practical thinking to match the creativity and bring our ideas to life to help our organisations face into the challenges of a very unpredictable world and changing work operating system.

We will feature some standing and movement-based activities to give us some of that kinetic energy. We will make sure we’re hydrated, caffeinated and stimulated.

Mostly though, we will dispel the myth that we need water coolers and flipchart paper to be innovative through the creation of some breakthrough thinking and use digital platforms, video and show how we can virtually innovative.

 

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