Virtual teams and creativity: are we must hoping monkeys will recreate Shakespeare?

infinite monkeys close upI read a blog post recently (“Coming to a couch near you”) that had an interesting take on the idea that people had to be collocated to be creative. It’s a pervasive idea that R&D and other functions where idea generation and innovation are key miss something important if people are not together face to face.

I’ve worked with clients in the past on how to recreate the serendipity of those chance face to face encounters over the coffee machine that spark ideas and cross fertilisation of effort, and it is undoubtedly hard to replicate virtually. We just have less “bandwidth” together in virtual teams.

However, this post took a different slant, effectively referring to this view as a modern equivalent of The Infinite Monkey Theorem, “If you put enough monkeys and typewriters  together in a room, eventually they will replicate the works of Shakespeare”. 

It’s a good point. True random idea generating connections are relatively rare and difficult to organise for – particularly in remote and virtual teams. Surely we would be better looking for ways to create opportunities for serendipity and make necessary connections easy, rather than pushing people together and hoping that chance happens?

In effect, that is where I have arrived to in my own practical work with virtual teams, creating more “community” events (both on and offline) with space for networking and for areas of common interest and activity to emerge naturally and effectively.

Social media can be used to connect people with similar interests and make it easy for groups to emerge to work on common opportunities. Profiles make it easier to search out people in large organizations with needed skills and perspectives. Improving search makes their views easier to find and engage with.

I call this “directed serendipity”. It’s increasing the chance of connection and cross-fertilisation. By its nature it is very hard to organise this centrally. Instead we need to create opportunities and forums where people can connect. We also need to provide the space for connections to happen by not filling our face to face and virtual  meetings and networking events with content to the exclusion of conversations.

How will you create directed serendipity in your virtual team of organization? If you would like some more ideas why not talk to one of our consultants.

Reference: “Coming to a Couch Near You: A New Wave of Telecommuting”, by Todd Wasserman, Huffington Post, 10 April 2014

About the author:

Kevan Hall Kevan Hall is a CEO, author, speaker and trainer in matrix management, virtual teams and global working. He is the author of "Speed Lead - faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies, "Making the Matrix work - how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity", and the "Life in a Matrix" podcasts, videos, cartoons and blog. He is CEO and founder of Global Integration. Company profile: .

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