THERE IS REAL EMPATHY ONLINE
A better world for creativity — no location, fewer barriers, more opportunity, more human.
We are experiencing a very intense and exponential opportunity in Creativity. Some say work from home decreases our creativity capacity, others think it is quite the opposite. Time will tell.
Based on my own experience during the pandemic months, dealing with a team of 40+ people from around the world, my understanding is that we are at the beginning of an era of very powerful creativity, so I decided to organize my thoughts and share them for a deeper discussion.
Whether you agree or disagree, I believe this reflection is important as no one doubts that creativity is a key factor in such uncertain times as the ones we are living in.
I’ve tried to keep it simple, straightforward, organized in 10 principles that reinforce my vision and also how to hack each of them.
Join me. Would love to hear your thoughts.
The digital presence is the real one
How many times have you been somewhere, but not?
I am sure everyone remembers Mom saying at the dinner table: what’s the matter? In moments where we were seated at the table, having dinner with the family, but our minds were not there at all. Maybe about a game, meeting friends, and so many other more interesting thoughts than the dinner conversation. And that happened long before smartphones and iPads! Trust me. Presence is not about your body being there, it’s about full attention, focus, listening (we’ll talk about this later). How many meetings you were there, but not really? Or only one of your personas (we’ll talk more about this also) was there? Remotely, you either are, or you are not. It’s much clearer. More obvious and more natural. You turn off the camera and decide what to do. You decide to pay attention otherwise, you lose. It’s more focused, simple. More objective. More present!
HACK — Don’t get blocked by your pre-concepts
Don’t let your own preconceptions and prejudice block you from enjoying the experiences and the power of real presence, full attention, less small talks, fewer power games, straight forward creative sessions. It’s really powerful.
Listening is more effective remotely
In-person, we talk much more than we listen.
What we see more are fights for being able to talk, to express an opinion (we’ll explore more about this later), and to lead conversations. But, we know that real learning, real collaboration, and, consequently, real growth (personal and business) comes from listening, not from speaking. The power of listening is one of the most powerful tools humans have available to evolve, to transcend, to create. Creativity is about listening, not talking. The consensus is about listening. Conflict is about talking. We listen more when remote than we do physically.
HACK — Become a deep listener and don’t fight to speak
Use the opportunity the remote engagements offer to speak less. Stop the talking fights, use the remote protocols for your benefit: listen. You will see a huge difference.
Sincerity & openness are higher
We have stronger personas in the present world.
This is another counter-intuitive way of thinking I am proposing. Common sense assumes we are really us, therefore open and sincere, in face-to-face engagements. But, when we compare our behaviors in these 2 universes, the distance, the separation, and the “worse” channel that the remote engagements offer, instead of being a barrier, are in fact an invitation for us to be more sincere, open, and, in the end, to be ourselves. That does not mean it is all fine, all beautiful and without conflicts and confusions — this is part of being human — but it means we act with fewer filters — yes, filters were not invented on the digital world (you can call it personas if you prefer) — and that sincerity and openness go up. We don’t need to be nice. We don’t need to pretend we care. We don’t need to play so many rituals the in-person world has taught us to. Politeness remotely is easier, simpler, and less fake!
HACK — Remove your personas, be yourself
The opportunity to join remote engagement being yourself, more relaxed, less bossy, less “the one that leads”, less “the one that knows it all”, so on and so on, is really beautiful. I am sure you have experienced it already. The chance to embrace your little 1-inch by 1-inch space you have in a zoom call — not even being able to choose where your box appears — is a chance for one, finally, to be themself.
Remote collaboration is exponential
With the right tools, remote collaboration is way higher than presencially.
When we started our creative remote sessions in this pandemic — as a global company we were used to doing them all the time — we learned that using the right tools (Miro, Mural, etc) and the right techniques (orchestrated sessions, good calendar handling, camaraderie, etc) and the real intention and presence on each of the sessions, we experienced exponential growth on our results, team participation, engagement and fun on the experience. From a 3 to 50 person session, we had great results, great ideas exchange, and, great outcomes. When you can log in from anywhere, post ideas anonymously (we’ll explore this more), archive it all, check references, explore everyone’s ideas and concepts, it cuts it all so much to the basics, that it becomes exponential!
HACK — Believe in the power of the crowd
The invitation is simple: set the right tools, culture, and environment and you will enhance your creative power. Trust that the group is much more powerful than the individual. Experience it deeply.
Anonymity is power
There is nothing more powerful than anonymity in creative processes!
Creativity is about individuals. Yes. But, individuals are also about all kinds of feelings, intercommunications tricks and habits, ego, power games, and, naturally the corporate culture manner. Design thinking is a really powerful tool, no one doubts it. But anonymous design thinking breaks it all for a new level of creativity, freedom, and openness. How incredible to be able to post any idea — dumb or smart — with no one judging you (mainly not judging yourself)! How incredible to be able not to vote on your ideas after you saw much better ones with no fears, no exposure, no ego call to action! I had a personal experience that was an epiphany to me: I was helping a group of parents at my son’s Waldorf School to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and we decided to create a talent show to raise awareness and money. We needed a name for it. There were a few suggestions, the owners were “selling” their ideas and we could not get to a consensus and decide it. After some time debating it, I decided to invite the group to a Mural Board I’ve created during the debate. Invited them all to quiet down a bit and just post names for the show. A few minutes later, we had around 20 names and I started a voting session — again quietly, we were voting anonymously, and we selected two names and, after 2 minutes of a quick discussion, we decided the right name (a perfect you, important to say). No one knew who was the author of it (besides the author, who understood the power of anonymity and stayed quiet). No one celebrated individuality, but we all celebrated collectiveness. It was the most powerful experience I had, and it opened my eyes to the incredible strength of anonymity.
HACK — Don’t bring your ego and your opinion
Our ego is part of us, part of our living, and a key part of our survival skills. I get it. But, when it comes to creativity, it’s also a component that kills ideas, kills opinions, kills energy, and, ultimately, kills creativity.
Power games, harassment, and bullshit dramatically decrease.
“There is nothing better than an in-person meeting to solve things, to get things done.” How many times have you heard — or said — that phrase? I have been thinking a lot about this lately and I am not sure if I agree with it. Besides the logistical burdens (travel, commute, drive, park, etc), there are the meeting burdens (distractions, waste of time, small talk, etc) and, to be honest, I think most of the meetings were totally unnecessary and had lots of other hidden agendas and reasons to exist that were not the purpose of the meeting. And, meetings — in fact, humans — are both social animals that act with their instincts, survival modes, and interests, and this makes in-person meetings more of a nightmare than a real advantage for companies and persons. And, due to the limitations of the media, remote engagements cut a lot of these games, the bullshit playing, the power harassments, and all of the small human things meetings come with and put us face to face with the purpose of the gathering, problems to be solved and actions. I am not saying remote engagements are perfect, I am just saying they are potentially better than in-person engagements.
HACK — Rethink the way you run meetings
The opportunity is to rethink the way we run (and organize) meetings and creative sessions and make the limitations an advantage.
The channel is not a block
Distance, smaller images, mute, no video, etc, are great tools.
One can say — and I agree — that on remote engagements we are not so close to people, that people can turn off their camera (and one can’t even know if the person is still there) and that small video images are not enough to get people’s attention and reactions. But, what if we look at all these points as advantages? On remote engagements you don’t need to pretend you’re paying attention when you need to do something else, you turn off the camera and do it — with the risks you choose to lose the path of the conversation, but probably when you do, it’s because the gathering is not that relevant to you. On remote engagement, you can pay attention to people’s dynamics much better and more discreetly — you can turn your camera off not to do something else, but to be able to “read” more the meeting dynamics and people’s reactions. On remote gatherings, you can use your support materials (extra info, notes on the iPad, searches on google, etc) to complement your thinking. On remote meetings, you can listen (we explained about it above) and think before you say something while you wait for your time to speak. In remote engagements, you can work while you listen to the meetings if you are not a key part of the conversation. On remote gatherings, you can use your body language, can add comments, signs, images, jokes, whatever, to support your thinking and points of view.
HACK — Embrace it, stop bragging against it
The moment you embrace the tool and see its advantages, you put the “limitations” to work for you, not against you. Every time you brag against it, you are sending the message that you are not fully there, that you miss something, you are not being clear what it is, that you are not fulfilled with that experience, and that your presence is not as complete as it could be!
Remote connections are for real people
Fake people get revealed more on remote tools.
This principle is probably one of the most complexes. It’s quite common sense that our physical presence — which a lot of people call our real presence — is in fact, the real one. But, as humans have many personas and roles in life, I think that our digital presence is the one that really reflects what we truly are, what we think, whom we love, whom we hate, our principles, purposes, and life mission. In physical life, we are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, bosses, employees, entrepreneurs, champions, etc., etc. And we bring those personas along to our interactions. We rarely can be a son in a meeting, a father with our father, a boss with our boss. We dress the codes. We use personas. We are different personas according to the context. And online? We blend it more, we use different personas in different moments and media, but it gets all mixed up at the end. I normally can know more about someone having online interactions than physical ones with that person. We lose control, we can’t say what people see about us, we reveal ourselves. Really. And, when the world forcefully becomes remote and online, we are all there, exposed, naked, true, and showing all our brutal facts for whoever wants to see.
HACK — Open yourself and be vulnerable
Use the opportunity to be more of yourself, more genuine, more real, and play integrity.
Serendipity can be created
It will be naturally created the more the remote work becomes a habit
This is the only argument that makes remote engagements less powerful than in-person ones. The lack of serendipity. I agree. But, at the same time, how many times did you meet someone in the hall and had an epiphany? How many times have you had a great idea while drinking coffee? How many times have you solved a problem walking with someone from the parking lot? It surely happens, but it’s less frequent and less enlightening than we think. But, for sure you had small good ideas, you were reminded of things you forgot or did not think of, you connected some dots while on serendipitous moments. I fully agree. In this case, I recommend we hack serendipity!
HACK — Do remote things for nothing.
Just make arrangements, meet, zoom meetings for nothing. Invite people to chat. Listen to them. Ask how they are. Tell good stories, listen.
There is real empathy online
More than in-person, in most cases.
Oh, certainly I left the most controversial aspect for the end. But, before you question me, think of your latest interactions, for example, with people you didn’t know before. They happened, right? You might still be thinking that if you had the chance to meet in person, it would have been more powerful. But is this a reasonable assumption? Did you connect with everyone you’ve met in person? No, right? Empathy is less a matter of physical presence and more a matter of presence, intention, and openness. Empathy is something that happens among humans, a subtle connection that uses all the powerful human senses — something so so special to humans — that I struggle to believe it could not happen thru digital means, when we hear each other’s voices, when we see each other’s expressions, when we sense each other’s presence or absence, when we sense each other’s reactions, agreements or disagreements, when we sense a human connection, beyond what is being said, presented or played. On that Waldorf initiative, I’ve mentioned before, we went live and we gathered a few thousand people to watch it, and we had a 2-hour experience (remote by the way) that was one of the most powerful experiences the school ever had. It was a lot of hard work and effort. We had to put our souls into it, obviously, but we’ve created real and strong online empathy. Oh, we did! I have started an initiative with my long time friend — @mauricio curi — to help people with pandemic troubles — Heart& Mind& You& — it is a Listening Platform, and we have performed a handful of sessions — remotely, live, and in public — where we listened to people’s challenges. We’ve received people we have never met before and due to genuine intention on all sides, respect and openness, we have had amazing learning sessions with life transformational results. All remote. At work, we have gathered people around pains, problems, and opportunities — some being of the company team, others that we knew, and some also that we never met before — with amazing results and outcomes. And it was with real fulfilling experiences that I doubt we would be able to do in person. It happens. It does. Human sensitivity is such a powerful aspect of our species that any channel is good enough! The remote channels are more than good. Human connections fly very well through Zoom, Meet, Teams, BlueJeans, Whatsapp, whatever platform. They do.
HACK — It’s all about the intention
It’s about being there, being open, and being truthful. It’s about the intention. Your intention.
And so what?
With all that said, what is the takeaway, Bob?
I don’t have one big take away, but I believe these 10 principles are powerful foods for thought and, re-reading this article and the presentation (shared below), I guess there is a huge amount of evidence that we are facing a great opportunity for creativity. And that is good news.
You will probably disagree with a few of my points, you might prove that I am wrong — which I think is very likely to be the case — but, even though, it’s hard not to see the opportunity we are facing when we embrace remote creativity. Those that have — I did — are benefiting from it and being able to enhance their networks, their impact, and their fulfillment.
Not to mention the number of consequences — less geographical barriers, being able to be where you want to be, not where the work wants you to be, being global, being visible, being relevant — that accepting this invitation creates. It’s time for change and change requires letting go, unlearn what you know, and unlock new potentials. To quote the song Seasons by Future Islands “when people change, they gain a piece but they lose one too”
And this article only makes sense if any of those things have happened to you after you read this. So if you’ve come this far, I assume some of them already did.
And we did not meet in person!
There is real empathy online
Published on CREATIVITY FROM HOME A better world for creativity - no location, fewer barriers, more opportunity, more…
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