By Noel Pullen on February 05, 2017
We’ve all been there: Those awkward moments where you’re sharing space with someone, like waiting for the coffee machine at work. There’s a nod, maybe a smile, but not much more… Two people existing in parallel but never really connecting.
But we’ve also been here: A random encounter with someone where you unexpectedly connect on a more-than-superficial level. Surprisingly, that chance encounter leads to discovering a shared interest and sparks a deep discussion around a problem. All of a sudden, you find yourself with a new friend, and are tackling that gnarly problem from a completely different angle which, in turn, leads to a better solution that you could have imagined.
Assisted SerendipityIn any group, I find it’s the informal relationships that are the most effective in getting stuff done. Why? People naturally want to help other people and they are much more likely to do so when the obstacle of unfamiliarity is out of the way. This is where a facilitated and informal ‘blind’ chat can work it’s magic. We call this #randomcoffee. It’s a catalyst that facilitates relationships and eases the awkwardness of approaching someone new. Why coffee? Coffee dates require less commitment because they are inexpensive and quick in nature, yet can be drawn out in length by good conversation.
The term “assisted serendipity” comes from Ryan Vanderbilt’s article in Fast Company about the future of collaboration. He elegantly uses the proximity of magnets to illustrate the benefits of helping to bring two things together. ‘If two magnets are separated by too much distance, they won’t have any impact on each other,” he writes “But, if something helps move them a bit closer, they will gravitate towards each other and connect. Technology can be used in a similar way. It can connect you to other people, skills, tools, and trigger new ways of thinking and working; it can create an “assisted serendipity.”’
Ten Thousand Coffees built a business around helping people connect, Robert Meggs at Etsy built an internal tool called Mixer for the same reasons; The University of Michigan started “Innovate Brew” last October to foster innovation; they randomly match their faculty for 30-minute coffee meetings once a month.
Each of these organizations is looking for ways to bring people together for a conversation to learn about one another—and from one another—in the hopes that it changes their future behaviour for the benefit of all.
#randomcoffeeSo, after a few conversations (over coffee, true story), one Google Form, and assistance with writing and sending… in February 2016, we had 128 people sign up for their first #randomcoffee at Hootsuite.
This is an email sent to participants. I hoped to strike a balance of humour and encouragement 🙂