A new study finds that virtual meetings can crush creativity 2022-04-27 11:54:45


Does Zoom and other forms of video interaction squash the creative process that led to such feats? yes, According to new research published on Wednesday, it is found that it is easier to come up with creative ideas in person.

“We started the project initially (in 2016) because we heard from managers and CEOs that innovation was one of the biggest challenges in video interaction. And I’ll admit I was skeptical at first,” said Melanie Brooks, assistant professor of business administration. Marketing at Columbia Business School and author The study was published in the scientific journal Nature.

Brooks said it was previously He believed that virtual interaction simulated personal experience “well” and assumed that the naysayers of video conferencing were Luddites. She spent four years Explore whether it really has any effect on people’s ability to generate innovative ideas.

Idea generation

I’ve recruited 602 people, including college students and employees, and split them into pairs to work on assignments either in person or virtually. The tasks involved creating new uses for everyday objects, such as bubble wrap and a plate of Frisbee, and each room contained the same five items.

She explained, “When we innovate, we have to move away from existing solutions and come up with new ideas by drawing on a broad range of our knowledge. Coming up with alternative ways of using known things requires the same psychological process.”

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Each pair’s performance was determined by the number of ideas they came up with and the novelty and value of their ideas as rated by the student judges. (Example: Creative use of frisbee: getting fruit out of a tree, and delivering a message. Less creative: a plate or hat for a picnic.)

The researchers also used eye-tracking software, which found that virtual participants They spent more time looking directly at their partner, rather than staring into the room. What’s more, she said, the couples who were in the video conferencing remembered few things around them, which was identical to those who were meeting in person.

“This visual focus on the screen narrows the perception,” Brooks said. “In other words, people are more focused when interacting on the video, which is detrimental to the broad and expanded idea generation process.”

Jay Olson, a postdoctoral scientist at McGill University in Canada who studies ways to measure creativity, said people often look at their surroundings to help them generate ideas.

“Things in a room can stimulate new associations easier than trying to make them all internally,” said Olson, who was not involved in the research. “The authors found that interaction through a computer screen can inadvertently shift attention in a way that reduces the generation of these new ideas.”

Real world results

The results were replicated in a similar but larger experiment outside the lab. About 1,490 engineers working in five different countries (in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia) were paired up to a communications infrastructure company at random, either face-to-face or via video call. They were asked to create product ideas and choose one to present as a new product for the company.

Brooke said the results are similar, despite the exercise It was more complex than lab-based testing, the engineers knew each other beforehand, and were regular users of video conferencing software.

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“The field study shows that the negative effects of video conferencing on idea generation are not limited to simplified tasks and can take place in more complex and high-tech brainstorming sessions,” she said.

“The fact that we replicate the negative impact of video conferencing on idea generation in our industry environment means that the negative impact of video conferencing is not likely to diminish as people become more familiar with programs like Zoom or gain more experience building ideas and working together on teams.”

But there were some important caveats. The study found that video conferencing does not hinder all collaborative work. While generating ideas was personally easier, it made no difference to being able to critically evaluate creative ideasAnd Like picking the best idea out of the bunch, Brooke said.

Creativity and Zoom are not incompatible

The new research was an important first step, said Elaine Langer, Harvard professor of psychology and author of “About Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity.” However, she said it was a mistake to conclude that creativity and video conferencing are incompatible.

Whether or not we are creative during the zooming in/out process may depend on how creative we are in the first place and the task at hand, said Langer, who was not involved in the research. Generating uses for Frisbee and generating new ways of dealing with conflict are not the same – it might be better to do one task alone, outside of any kind of meeting.

“Many of us are probably making friends in person faster than via ZoomAnd Creativity thrives when we are comfortable. But when zooming in from home, people are probably more relaxed than they were in the experience.”

Olson and Langer suggested that there was a working solution to the puzzle that could be tested in future research: If subjects were asked to spend more time looking around the room during their virtual sessions, would they generate as many ideas as they would during in-person sessions?

Olson said managers shouldn’t be in a rush to send people back to their desks or add more face-to-face meetings as a result of this research, although that may happen. It makes sense to hold the brainstorming sessions in person.

“Although the effects appear to be strong, this is one study and the effects are rather small, representing a difference of one or two ideas between groups. The extent of the impact depends on the company: it can range from a trivial difference to a massive compound effect,” Olson said. .

“I wouldn’t want to see a company doubling their in-person meetings in the hope of improving their innovations, if that also means doubling commute time leading to less happy—and perhaps less creative—employees.”