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The Space capsule conundrum in the context of virtual innovation

Written by: Mudar Kadah - Project Lead, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, SAP Training & Development Institute.

During the past few months we have been presented with the challenge of condensing all our various activities to the same physical location, which is our homes. Each of us came up with their own creative ways to adapt and create habits, rituals and activity zones to bring ourselves into the right mindset to be able to continue our day to day as good as possible - as recommended by most productivity advice out there. And yet we still had those days where we did everything from the same place, for instance the couch or bed.

Personally, I have really connected to the space capsule analogy: which means you compare and re-frame the situation of home isolation to the state of a spaceman in that capsule, being in charge of keeping it running in space until you safely return to earth. Without going into too much detail, the idea is the following:

1. You have 4 stations to maintain: Exercise, Sleep, Create, Relax.
2. The momentum of motivation has two elements to maintain: Physical and Mental.
3. Each station needs to have a clear physical definition and your mission is to maintain the hygiene and isolation of each station.

Basically, the general intention behind these different tips and ideas is to create that physical / mental separation between each activity that requires you to function in a different way. Creating ques for your brain to get into the mindset of that activity by creating easy rules or simple acts that will tell your brain what it needs to do in a particular situation and for a specific activity or task. 

For example, the physical act of stepping into an office in the morning triggered your brain into getting into “work and creating value mode”. In the days of working from home, going to your workspace would have a similar effect.

Physical innovation stations and ques.

Open spaces, whiteboards, colorful (and comfortable) furniture, glass walls, markers and sticky notes: these are called design ques, which we see in innovation spaces everywhere across the globe and believe it or not it is not just there to make the space look “cool”. They motivate us and help us to get into a creative mood instantly.

It follows a similar principle as the space capsule method: its main purpose is to trigger your brain into transitioning physically and mentally from the productive mindset of getting things done effectively and efficiently to your creative self. It signals you to be open, creative, explore new ideas and take the time to look at concepts differently, while having the tools that make it easier to do so.

Yet it is also important to point out that a dedicated, fancy innovation space isn’t necessarily a requirement for innovation. The process of “space hacking” for instance, helps to transform any space with limited resources into an innovation space. It is all about having the environment that triggers the right mindset of a team to co-create. 

Virtual innovation, does this really work??!!

Regardless of  which part of the world we are in, all of us are in various stages of going back to a new form of normality, yet virtual collaboration and innovation is here to stay. Considering how industries are shifting right now, there is even a greater need for innovation, beyond physical borders.

This had me thinking: how can we hack the virtual collaboration environment and make sure we are in the right mindset to collaborate and co-innovate, even though we can’t share the same pack of sticky notes? 

In order to create a sub-station for innovation within the create station, while having the brain already trigged for “value creation”, we need to aim for the following:

1. Letting go of the buzzing topics and mental demands we have from our day to day responsibilities.

2. Sparking our interest and getting inspired to solve the challenge at hand.

3. Creating a friction free environment for all the team members working together on a common challenge.

As the “virtual space hacking” naming implies, there is no specific way to do it, there is no right or wrong. Each of us would tweak and hack the setup according to their own needs and personalities. However, to get you started here are a few tips and tricks that will help you create and maintain your innovation sub-station:

1. Make sure to have a separate desktop that has the programs open which are needed for the virtual meeting / workshop / session, keeping the other attention seeking apps away from sight (see how to create multiple desktops on windows machines here).

2. Don’t forget to test and finetune the playing field: setup a separate call where you and your team members can try out the different tools you would use for the session (I recommend using for instance Mural and Zoom). Being comfortable with the tools, ensures your brain is focused on the topic at hand and removes the friction of figuring out how everything works. 

3. Sharing a reading list / videos / content on the topic of the challenge with the participating team and encouraging everyone to spend 15 mins before the session to go through some of the material will help to transit into the topic sphere and get immersed into the challenge space gradually. Catchy titles are valuable here!

4. Trigger with music: having instrumental music playing in the first few minutes when people join is a definite mood changer. In addition, when used consistently, the brain will create the mental link between the activity and songs being played.

5. Start the session with an impactful video, other content or question that will lead into an open conversation about the topic of the challenge and get people engaged right away. 

Even in a physical environment, it’s not that simple to pick up and start pouring in innovative ideas. Leveraging frameworks such as design thinking or the business model canvas, that are designed to facilitate innovation, mixed with related warmups and exercises, which put you in the right mindset at the right time, are proven to support successful and results-driven innovation. And yes, this absolutely work in a virtual world, too.

What’s important though, is to don’t underestimate the specific environment of virtual innovation. Remember: while being in your own capsule it, is easy to drift away! The above mentioned examples of habits will help you in creating a dedicated virtual sub-station of innovation, and when maintained and included carefully, innovation will flourish. 

The act of creating your innovation environment with defined boarders, that you can easily control, will help you when your mental energy is low and will give your brain a framework on where the energy should flow.

You affect the environment and the environment will simultaneously, positively affect you! 
Now: Beam me up, Scotty!

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