I just finished a call with a colleague. No agenda. No plans. Just two people and coffee. (And two computers and the internet that connects them since we can’t meet in person.)
Bill Wachel invited me to this agenda-less meeting so that two new colleagues could get to know each other. It was a kind gesture, especially at a time when meeting new colleagues is challenging. We had a good conversation.
But that isn’t all that happened. We also realized we had some similar ideas. More than that, we discovered that we were working on the same topic: I was preparing to interview a client about management style, and he was working on a blog. Because of this, both of our ideas will be better for it, and we may collaborate on future work.
At my university (Trinity University), we called these creative collisions, and we built an entire building to foster them. The architecture of many offices is designed to do the same. Many companies take their people off-site once a year to accomplish the same goal. None of these methods are working well right now.
Of all the more difficult things during remote work, bumping into each other seems to be one of the hardest. Unexpected solutions and creative ideas often come at us from the side, when we aren’t working on them directly. There is value in a chat over the coffee pot. Solutions can come from talking to someone from the other side of the office during an elevator ride. Spilling your tea on someone in a hallway can lead to a creative new idea (seriously, I’ve done this one.)
My colleague Lisa Jordan calls these the in-between times. You never know where a good idea will come from but we can take steps to make them more likely. Until we can all work together in person again, here are four ideas to foster creative collisions.
- Coffee: I’ve already mentioned my meeting with Bill, but many professionals are doing the same thing—scheduling meetings with no purpose other than to chat. It takes a bit more effort than before, and it might seem strangely formal at first, but a half-hour can produce new ideas, and it has the advantage of reminding you that there are actual human people on the other side of these screens.
- Open Meetings: The idea of an agenda-less meeting makes many professionals cringe. In fact, good meetings were organized to come to conclusions and to avoid wasting time. But the virtual office has shifted most of us into highly structured interactions. Now more than ever we need more “loose time.” Consider a meeting of five people without an agenda. You might be surprised at what happens by the end.
- Office Hours: Scheduling an open block of time when you are available to chat is harder than it sounds. Many of us now spend several hours on video. The idea of scheduling even more video chatting sounds less than appealing; however, like the open meetings and coffee, this sort of informal time can be beneficial. Try two hours a week of available time. I know one CEO who sits on video for a few open hours, in an open Zoom meeting, and just waits to see who shows up.
- Brainstorming: Brainstorming, the formal process of drawing ideas from a group, has gone out of fashion. Maybe it’s out of style because it’s an old technique (business techniques are just as trendy as fashion). Still, in a virtual office, the formal process of drawing ideas from a group may be more valuable than it was in the physical space. Try it for five minutes during your next meeting.
What are you doing to spur new ideas at this time?
Written by Jim Smelley, Author
Reach out to explore these ideas further!