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  • Innovations without the watercooler

Innovations without the watercooler

01 August 2021

Gerard Rahman, Partner |

Our world has changed. Today’s remote working champions were checking what time we came into the office yesterday. In this world, someone made a point which made me think. As we move to crisp white shirts and pajama bottoms, what about the ideas we came up with around the watercooler? Remember when one of us had an elbow resting on the watercooler as another gesticulated with an orchestral conductor’s energy spouting eureka and yet no spills from their paper cup? Certainly, that has happened. But did it happen recently?

Our work practices have fast evolved over the last 30 years. Technology reduces the time tasks take but equally it reduces our time to respond. So, whilst we create more value per hour, we become time poorer. Do we look up from our laptop? Do we listen to music to help us focus or catch up on a podcast whilst we work? How many times have you looked above your own laptop and found that you caught no-one’s eye in a busy office? Is it really true that people prefer if you message them rather than call? Is the art of conversation dying or evolving? And so, I feel that the watercooler as a place to generate ideas is becoming a nostalgic notion. But that does not diminish the importance of it.

Imagine if the words idea and innovation mean the same. Then, how we understand innovation becomes more than something to do with technology. Every innovation does not need to become an app. We can have big ideas that disrupt the status quo. We can equally have ideas which can improve things by a small amount. Sit back and think over the last 30 years of all the disruptive or incremental innovations. The ones that impact our work practices. Here is how we can make a difference. Each one of us can add to our team, our organisation, our profession and our society through innovation. The person who spoke of remote working posing a risk to generating ideas around the watercooler was right. We still need to innovate.

There will always be an Archimedes or Isaac Newton, but we cannot wait for the proverbial apple to fall on our head. Each one of us can innovate. There are tools and guides available to help us innovate. A simple search on our laptop will find them. The key though is the will to innovate. Start by giving yourself time to reflect on how you approach something or your learnings from a recent project. Look for where it can be improved or something new in our approach that led to a better result. Can we apply these changes to benefit many more people in our team? Perhaps these changes can help other teams. Capture what you see and then chat them through with someone. Develop the idea together. The watercooler is merely a metaphor for coming up with ideas.

Recently, we tend to consider points of view in absolute terms. This leads to completely opposing views which no bridge can cross. Indeed, a bridge may not even be welcome. Remote working does not mean that we abandon our city offices. We will become a hybrid of the two with many variations in between. We will find a balance that works for each organisation and its stakeholders. However, as we seek that balance, we should not lose sight of the need to have an innovation culture. It is for us to want to innovate. Let us not wait for the apple to fall.

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