Paul Sloane discusses ways to collaborate remotely over Zoom, drawing on inspiration from the musical duo The Postal Service, in this new article.

In 2001 two musicians, Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tambrello, wanted to collaborate on some new compositions. The problem was that they lived hundreds of miles apart at opposite ends of America’s west coast. So Tamborello composed some rhythms (or ‘beats’) and sent them to Gibbard on CD by post. Gibbard added some instrumentals and vocals and returned the arrangements to his partner. Back and forth the CDs went with edits and additions until eventually they had enough material for an album. In acknowledgement of their method they called themselves ‘The Postal Service’ and the album they released in 2003 was called ‘Give Up’. It was well received and sold over one million copies. Three singles were released from it. You can hear them on Spotify.

In 2003, the United States Postal Service (USPS) sent the band a cease and desist letter, stating that the band’s name was an infringement of its trademark. But the two sides came to a mutually beneficial agreement. The USPS allowed the band use of the trademark in exchange for promoting USPS and a performance at its annual Executive Conference. The USPS even sold the band’s CDs on its website.

There have been many other such long-range collaborations. Lil Nas X, an American rapper, bought a beat from Youngkio, a Dutch musician to create the track ‘Old Town Road.’ The two had never met but the song went on to top the Billboard charts in 2019. It is an example of an innovative new blend – ‘country rap’.

The lesson is clear. Creative people do not have to be in the same room in order to collaborate on innovations. How can you harness this idea in the age of Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings? Here is a brainstorm method I call ‘The Postal Service’. You gather a group of say 6 to 10 people on a Zoom meeting and explain the challenge. We need great ideas to tackle this problem. You articulate broadly what a good solution would look like and express the challenge in terms of an outcome ‘How could we……?’

Working individually (and remotely) people then go away, think about the issue and write down four separate ideas to tackle it. I encourage people to include one safe idea, one creative idea and one crazy idea. The ideas are then distributed – four to each. Person A gets an idea from persons B, C, D and E and so on. People receive four ideas from four different people. Each person selects the two most promising ideas and then adds details and suggestions to make them better.

The group now reassembles in threes – typically in Zoom break out rooms. Each group of three shares their proposals – six in all. They discuss these in detail and select the best one or two to present back. At this stage they can adapt, combine or improve the ideas. The whole group then meets on video conference and the best ideas are presented and discussed. The group votes to select the ideas which will go forward for trial and implementation.

We need to work remotely and we need to innovate so why not combine the two? Some people think better on their own and some people spark off others in groups. This method offers both approaches. I recommend it to you.

About the Author

Paul Sloane is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills and The Innovative Leader. He writes, talks and runs workshops on lateral thinking, creativity and the leadership of innovation. Find more information at



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