Ah COVID-19.  I dislike you for many reasons.  One of these reasons is that you have taken away my opportunity to find a spark, particularly at work.  A spark in the workplace is that unplanned, surreptitious moment where you are discussing an idea with a colleague in person.  The idea only improves as you gently tap it back to each other, building on the idea each time you return it, like a game of volleyball.  Damn you COVID.  How am I supposed to find a spark now?  This is the question that a client asked me recently.  This is how I responded (not entirely, but you will get the drift of how the conversation went).

Working in a different way challenges our routine, habits, and the ability to do our thing, the way we are used to doing it.  So, we can lament the fact that so much has been taken away from us during this time, or we can accept that it is not great, but it can work.   

I don’t know about you, but I find zoom, or any other virtual meeting platform lacking in spark.  The key reason I have identified is that when I have a zoom meeting- it is just that.  A meeting that is planned, has a topic, a timeframe and invited participants.  When I have a spark moment at work, it is generally unplanned, unstructured, in person, it may involve a whiteboard, post it notes and a physical space to promote lots of sparks. Now of course brainstorming sessions can be planned and often are.  However, think back to the best ideas that have occurred at work.  Where were you?  Who were you with? What were you doing? I bet it was something offbeat, out of the norm and unexpected.  This is where the best sparks can be found.

So how do we create the right conditions for sparks and creative moments outside of the physical workplace.  Firstly, we need to challenge our established definition of a workplace.  Where once a upon a time (or in the olden days as my kids like to say, even though they are referring only as far back as the early 2000’s) we congregated at work in the same place and the same time most days of the week, this has now changed.  I will go so far as to say this has permanently changed.  Many will not return to this kind of structure.  We will work from varied locations, on varied days and times.   So, we need to find a way to encourage sparks in a new way of working.

We could find sparks in a phone call, in a walk and talk session, in a virtual “drop in” time where you can choose to hangout in a virtual platform on virtual tables, couches or beanbags and share ideas with colleagues.  Or lots of sharing platforms have the functionality where you can post an idea and have colleagues provide feedback and add to your idea.  Some organisations will have already been doing this for some or most of the time but for many organisations this way of working is all new.  However, it can still bring a spark. 

In Cultivating Creativity, Miller (2015) tells us that the creating mind, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers, posits new ideas, considers multiple angles, assumes alternate identities, devises ingenious solutions, shifts frameworks, presents uncertainty, surprise disequilibrium and takes interpretive risks.

Let’s not focus on the barriers that could get in the way of great creative thinking.  We could do all of the above in person, on a phone, on a video conference or via a chat function.  The fundamental aspect is the thinking, not the location or the environment. 

Whilst the way we work has changed, there are still lots of opportunities to create sparks, to create with others, to collaborate and to innovate.  And we now have more options for when why and how these sparks occur.    

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