Virtual Communication Doesn’t Curb Creativity

Recently, the title of an article in the journal Nature claimed that “Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation.”  The only problem is that it’s not really true.  Reading the article, I discovered that it’s not the virtual communication that curbs creative idea generation, it’s the focus on the screen that does.   The problem has to do with the cameras and looking at people.  In a Zoom or Skype meeting, the participants are focused on the people looking at them: “videoconferencing hampers idea generation because it focuses communicators on a screen, which prompts a narrower cognitive focus.” This is what hinders creativity.  Not the virtual meeting.

According to the study, idea generation works best when people can daydream:  staring into space or looking at irrelevant objects in the room like a vase or a painting.  Because of the screen, people tend to focus on the screen.  So, a simple solution would be to simply turn off the cameras when generating ideas and to turn them back on when done generating ideas.  

In addition, there was an upside to the use of virtual communication. When the screens are on people are better at identifying and selecting creative ideas that will work.  So, to summarize.  Virtual communication does not hinder creativity: screens and cameras do.  So, turn them off during creative idea generation and then turn them back on when deciding which ideas are best.

Brucks, M.S., Levav, J. Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. Nature 605, 108–112 (2022). (