image by Reini68, flickr artist

when was the last time you had a good idea? one of those eureka moments?

i remember back in college my roommate and i were discussing which of the honey bunches of oats ‘flavors’ we enjoyed the most. after trying pretty much all of them, i told him with conviction that hbo with strawberries was my favorite. i said: “the thing i love about it is how your milk turns strawberry-flavored afterwards.”

immediately i thought, ‘hey — they actually make that stuff!’ and i shouted out with such joy, “dude! what if i make strawberry milk, and then pour that into my hbo with strawberries? it’s double the strawberry! how awesome would that be?!

the very next time we went to the grocery store i bought some strawberry nesquik mix and put my theory to the test. naturally it ended up being_horrendous,_ but it was still a good idea at the time.

the reason i mention this is because good ideas (even the ones that fail) are almost always a product of some kind of external stimulation. these ideas come to you through conversations, through listening, through watching other people. this is why working in distributed teams causes such problems for so many.

this notion of “you have your job, i have my job, and we’ll call each other every tuesday and discuss the status of things,” doesn’t work. it separates out the work being done from the actual creative process. as leaders and managers, it’s important that we create environments that support the creative process rather than work against it.

it’s not always possible to have people in the same geography — i think we all know that. business is global, and so too must your workforce be. but we can certainly provide them with the tools they need to become better collaborators. let your employees join and use social networks. join them on those networks. become part of the process yourself. stop using email as your primary means of communicating work. hold more video conferences and web meetings with visuals.

for those who are co-located, don’t put them in cubicle farms. give them offices and more than enough spaces where they can come together with their thoughts, challenges, and proposals. give them time in the day to work on something that’s entirely non-work related. pro-bono work that they want to work on. lessons learned from those efforts will carry over into the billable ones.

stop treating people as if they’re just cogs that can be placed anywhere. find out who works well together and put them in the same space. if it means moving someone from the 1st floor of your building to the 4th floor, then so be it. throw those old “organizational standards” out the window because they don’t work anymore.

ideas do not occur in a bubble;so stop putting your employees in them.