The word serendipity was created by Horace Walpole in 1754 to describe the ‘faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.’ Most of us think of serendipity as an accident. Fortunately, it generally has a positive connotation. It implies a lucky discovery that may improve a condition. But have you ever thought about trying to improve the possibility of serendipity occurring in your organization?
It doesn’t have to be an accident
According to an article by Michael Soto of Spark Collaboration companies should be working to promote what they call “casual collisions.” He says “The thinking goes that by increasing the number of unexpected encounters, there will be a corresponding increase in the serendipitous conversations and discoveries.” He cites a number of companies that have thought of ways to promote this and the things they have done. These include:
- Lunch Lines – Google tracks the length of their lunch lines, not to reduce them but rather to keep them at an optimal length. (I guess you can keep data on everything!)
- Elevators – The Bloomberg building in New York elevator takes you from the ground floor to the cafeteria where you can then switch elevators to other floors.
- Bathrooms – Apple put restrooms in a single location to drive people towards the same place.
- Hallways – Architects in some cases are designing narrower hallways, which force people to look up from their devices to avoid bumping into others.
- Lunch Tables – Offices are encouraged to replace small lunch tables with fewer, longer ones
These are just of the few ways you can encourage people to run into each other to promote a casual encounter, a conversation, an observation or even just a comment that could spark an idea.
I wrote about Soto’s idea in Revisiting A Cup of Coffee and A Chat: Networking at Its Core where I talked about the importance of solo practitioners and other independent workers getting together face-to-face. A cup of coffee is a good way to do that as is a drink and a cigar. It is also good for business owners. They have an opportunity to meet with someone outside of the immediate day-to-day that could end up sparking an idea or providing some inspiration. But what if you can’t meet face-to-face?
What are remote workers supposed to do? How do they bump into someone at the coffee machine or the water cooler? Certainly there are multiple collaboration tools, such as Spark, that offer the ability for remote workers to communicate with each other, but just offering the tool is not enough to get people to communicate. Those introverts you have out there may not take the initiative to communicate to others outside of a project. They may not reach out to someone outside of the immediate work group. Unfortunately, without that there is little chance for serendipity to occur. I think management needs to offer opportunities, ways and reasons for people to reach out to others. Perhaps a structure or program, similar to Soto’s, where there is a way to invite a fellow worker to a “chat over a cup of coffee”. Have a way for them to schedule a 15 minute chat with someone in a different job and department, just in order for them to “meet” each other. You never know what may come of this somewhat structured serendipity.
What are you doing to encourage casual collisions in your organization both in the office and remotely?
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