It is likely that the future of innovation will all be about bring together seemingly unrelated knowledge and fields. Once upon a time, it was all about the search for knowledge. Today, however, this has lost its value because, too often, we don’t know what we are looking for. This is why crowdsourcing software online tools are becoming so important. These pieces of software allow management to find knowledge that is targeted at a specific issue, leading to serendipitous encounters.
Ian Leslie perhaps described it best when he said that, while Google can answer virtually any question, it is not capable of telling you what you should actually ask.
The primary shapers for serendipity continue to be physical spaces, no matter how much of our life is now virtual. It is here that tacit knowledge can be accessed, because face to face relationships are relationships based on trust. However, this is only true if that trust is already there. If it isn’t, then virtual spaces are actually better. Plus, you need to use both to your advantage to really benefit. In fact, companies that don’t embrace both the virtual and the physical tend to be companies that have so-called “structural holes”.
It is clearly understood that innovation happens when there is openness and transparency, and when this is across the board rather than in silos. Again, this must be done both physically and virtually. Physically can be as simple as having floating desks and removing walls and partitions. In fact, research has shown that when zones “overlap”, productivity goes up by 20%.
Virtually means having excellent crowdsourcing functions in place that can be accessed by everybody. There are now numerous idea and innovation management platforms that can be used as such. Here, you can define and frame a question, and simply let everybody think about the possible solutions. It really is that simple to get knowledge together, and even to find out which questions you should be asking – more than Google will ever be able to do for you!
Creating serendipity between the two is down to key main things:
- You must understand that serendipity happens when interactions take place that create an outcome you didn’t intend for. This is where you will get the best surprises. Simple things can increase the likelihood of that happening, such as using different types of chairs in the canteen, or even placing a sofa near a doorway. Make sure you encourage people to converse with others, but don’t tell them what to converse about.
- Consider closing your office for lunch and making everybody have their break together. This may sound outlandish, but remember that in countries like Spain, everything stops for three hours during siesta, yet things still work. Redesign your communal space so everyone can sit (remember – different types of seating!), and see where you go.
- Serendipity is made up of three things: people, information, and objects. You need to make sure that all three of those are accessible.