Engineering Serendipity Intro

“Engineering Serendipity” is the latest business fad or phrase. When I hear the phrase, all I can think about is the 2001 movie with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what movie I am talking about, it is about a couple that meets at department store, they are both trying to buy the same pair of gloves, the last pair of gloves. There is undeniable chemistry, but the character played by Kate Beckinsale decides to leave their love fates to serendipity and writes her name in some book. SPOILER ALERT, anyways, long movie short, they waste the next 6 or so years of their lives and finally meet up at the end of the movie after both of them break off engagements to be with each other.

But, I am not in the business of reviewing movies. I am talking about something we have been doing for years, Networking. Either through programs, organizations, or specialized facilities like incubators, the hope is that these casual face-to-face chats among people with different skills might spark new ideas or lead to new solutions. Organizations like iBIO and other trade associations have been holding networking programs for years, recently we have moved on to more specialized networking programs like PROPEL and Chicago Innovation Mentors, where we focus the attendance to provide the best possibly connections and promote innovation.

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.” — Einstein

Incubators are geared towards, engineering serendipity.  1871 was designed to increase the number of connections through programming and genera areas which promote conversations. Existing incubators like the University Tech Park and Enterprise works for years have been running programs and fostering interactions between start-up companies, subject matter experts and researchers.

And now larger corporations are also looking to make those connections happen.  Some firms are taking a scientific approach—collecting and analyzing data about their teams and mathematically computing the likelihood that employees will meet. In some instances, they are squeezing workers into smaller spaces so they are more likely to bump into each other. In others, they are installing playful prompts, like trivia games, to get workers talking in traditional conversational dead zones, such as elevators. The most common is moving the work environment to be more open and flexible. Removing offices and developing cross discipline working clusters.  Large companies like Morningstar and smaller companies like Elevance Renewable Sciences have moved to an open office.

Studies have found that having colleagues work in close proximity to each other does correlate with increased collaboration. Researchers at the University of Michigan studying 172 research scientists recently found that when the scientists shared the same buildings and overlapped in their daily workplace walking patterns—moving between lab space, office space, and the nearest bathroom and elevator—they were significantly more likely to collaborate: For every 100 feet of “zonal overlap,” collaborations increased by up to 20%.

I am going to explore some of the programs and facilities here in the community to learn more about how organizations and facilities are “engineering serendipity”. Tonight I will be attending a Chicago Innovation Mentors meeting.  This is a closed-door highly focused networking group that builds mentoring teams around new technology innovation ventures (very early stage). Tonight will also be my first foray into video. Providing that my setup works tonight and I am able to edit the video in time. I hope to have a posting up tomorrow.

This is a conversation, not an editorial. Did I forget something, get it wrong or do you agree? Please Comment, Like, Re-Tweet and Share

(side note, I tagged Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack to see how many hits I would get from search engines)

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