Jenga towers and releasing the inspiration monster

by senior consultant Jim Morris

This pandemic makes life feel like a delicately balanced Jenga tower. If we remove too many pieces the whole thing will collapse. Admittedly, some of the pieces lost in this pandemic we might well do without. The morning traffic jam is a piece of my life that I would be happy to keep removed. However I strongly believe that the pieces we absolutely must not lose are the moments of contact we have with people. 

Be they online or face to face we have to keep connecting and sharing our thoughts with each other. If that stops, the tower will topple. Humans are social animals. We want the opportunity to be with people, share a meal and a drink, do team sports, go to events…be together.

As a self-repressed Englishman, I often joke that I cannot wait for the 1.5 meter restriction to be lifted, so that I can go back to my customary three meters. I have secretly enjoyed social distancing and not having to do the whole handshake, hug, three kisses greetings which define a lot of how the Dutch say “hi” and for that matter “bye”. However even my withering English roots now need watering with the human contact that we have been denied for so long. I know that if I lose the space to connect and have contact then I lose the opportunity for inspiration, innovation and ideas.

Covid can stop a lot but it can’t stop ideas

Camped in” is an anagram of “Pandemic”. I like this anagram. It makes sense to me. We have all been “camping in” for about a year now in various forms of lockdown. Yet because of the restrictions, this pandemic has twisted the arm of creativity. When forced to find work arounds and completely new ways of working we have been resourceful and inventive, sometimes even finding new purpose. I have heard wonderful global stories of distilleries producing hand sanitizer, DIY stores 3D printing face shields and engineering firms creating new ventilator machines. As offices remain empty, businesses have not just settled for standard online meetings. There has been noticeable creativity in dealing with lockdown. Two of my favorites are; drive-in interview sessions to hire new staff and tealight candle campfire sessions. This last one is the teambuilding campfire session usually held in a forest or other suitable outdoor location, now replaced by closing the curtains at home and each person lighting a tealight candle in a Zoom call. Crucially, all these ideas have only happened because we have remained connected. Or to be even more exact, because we have found or created (digital) spaces to connect with each other. Ideas happen in these spaces. It has been a journey 371 years in the making…so let’s do a bit of time travel back to 1650.

It’s 1650 and everyone is drunk

The streets of Oxford England smell of horse manure…and worse! The daytime beverages of choice are: breakfast a little beer, at lunch some wine, in the evening gin and then possibly more beer and wine. This was the healthy choice. During this time in Oxford the water was not good.

However things are about to change. In 1650 the first ever coffee and tea house in England opened. The Grand Café in Oxford. Coffee and tea houses played a role in British innovation and inspiration. Effectively until the rise of these cafés you had a population that was drunk all day. Some people called these establishments “penny universities” because you could pick up more useful knowledge in an evening at the café than by reading books for a whole month.

What happened is that people suddenly went from a depressant to a stimulant, the switch meant  better ideas, people were sharper and more alert. Here lies innovation, here lurks the inspiration monster just waiting to be released from its drunken stupor as we all switch to tea and coffee.

Most importantly it was the space that the coffee and tea shop created. A space where people talked, got together and shared. When we hear the word inspiration we hold on to some well-worn statements (still sometimes valid) a flash, stroke, epiphany, eureka or light bulb moment which suggests inspiration is a single thing, one illuminating moment. Yet inspiration and new ideas are a network. Neural networks which mirror social networks, external networks like coffee and tea shops. Therefore inspiration will come from generating space for it. Preferably a space where people, experience and expertise are mixed.  

If you feel your Jenga tower is delicately balanced and you want to release your inspiration monster, why not let Schouten Global create a space for you and your team to connect, learn and grow. We are not in the business of removing pieces, so let us instead add and replace pieces to make you and your organization stronger.

Time to strenghten your Jenga tower?

If you are interested in learning more please contact us at + 31 (0) 418 68 85 58 (NL) or email to