One great thing resulting from the COVID-19 situation is that now it is easier than ever to substitute real in-person meetings with virtual ones. Everyone, including their goat, is on Zoom nowadays. But is it the same, or are we losing something without even realizing it?
“Hell is other people” is a famous quote by Sartre from his play No Exit:
“All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me… So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”
Let’s play with it and adapt it to the new reality:
“Hell is other people on Zoom”.
Yesterday I was a part of two lengthy pan-European video meetings. They were quite different in terms of participants composition and objectives, but the same problem arose. Ultimately, democracy won over creativity.
The main problem of modern societies, and Europe in itself, is its culture of democracy. Being accustomed to the values of the society in which we live and breathe, we are automatically applying the same mental models at every stage of thinking and doing. This results in majority rule or absolute inclusiveness which spells disaster when the goal is creation. While it is well known that individuals perform better than groups, we quickly go for groupthink equilibrium.
This is amplified in video meetings where it takes more effort to participate and is easier to inhibit extreme or prolific inputs which are prerequisites for creative productivity.
A possible solution would be to take a different approach to virtual meetings. Because, alas, they are not the same. Individual brainstorming sessions as preparation for the meeting, or even better, during the meeting could be a good start. Strong facilitation of process but not content would be the next step.
We need to redesign our approach to meetings in an online environment. They just require a little more effort.
by Nikola Balić