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Last week I wrote an article on “designing for collaboration” and this got me thinking a lot about serendipity which is the unexpected occurrence of events in a beneficial way.  Within organizations this can be something such as an employee finding another employee to connect with to help on a project, ideas being shared which then turn into revenue generating or cost cutting projects, finding some piece of useful but perhaps unexpected information, and a host of other things.

This made me think that serendipity within the organization should be more than this unexpected “happy” thing we hope will happen.  Instead we should plan for it to happen.  I started going through some of the collaboration case studies I have put together and recalling the many conversations I have been having with clients and colleagues at organizations from around the world.  Every person at every company I talked to has had or has heard of their fair share of serendipitous occurrences at their organization.  It’s something we should expect to happen and something we should plan to happen as a result of deploying the new collaboration tools and strategies we have today.

There are a few things we should know about serendipity if we are to plan for it.  Typically serendipity has a better chance of happening among a larger group of people, oftentimes a group that doesn’t know each other well.  Within organizations serendipity also happens when an employee happens to come across something or someone.  So knowing these things how can we start to plan for serendipity?

There are a few things organizations can do:

  • Allow as many employees as possible to have access to collaboration tools within your company (I understand that sometimes you start with a pilot and a smaller group)
  • Make it easy for employees to search for other  people and for information
  • Make it easy for employees to discover other people or information (for example an activity stream that allows employees to see what others are working on and doing)
  • Encourage, educate, train, and provide incentives to employees to collaborate
  • Make sure the tools you deploy are simple and intuitive

The point of this is to move beyond hoping for serendipity to expecting and perhaps even cultivating it within our organizations.  Now I don’t think serendipity alone can always make a valid use case or piece of value (sometimes it can), but, we still need to recognize the fact that oftentimes great ideas and things happen in this serendipitous way regardless of how hard we try to force them to come naturally.

I also strong believe that serendipity and innovation go hand in hand for we oftentimes innovate when we get that “light bulb” over our heads, that “aha” moment that can come at any time when something or someone reminds us of an idea (or creates a new idea in our heads).

Although serendipity is unexpected perhaps we can help it happen more often just by doing the things mentioned above, we should stop hoping for serendipity and start planning for it.

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