Serendipitous encounters are something many an organization are trying to encourage. The wondrous nature of serendipity have filled books such as The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity, and it has encouraged companies to try and foster environments where employees randomly and magically bounce ideas off of one another.
It would be wrong to believe that these chance encounters are happening purely due to luck and that there is nothing we can do about it. Serendipity can undoubtedly be shaped by our choices and our behaviours, even our dispositions. It’s to this end that a number of projects have emerged in recent times to try and help us on the way.
I wrote recently about a research paper that explored the potential for connecting up event attendees using an algorithm. They tested out their approach at an industry conference, and when delegates were surveyed after the conference, their responses were very positive, with over 50% of delegates announcing potential new collaborations emerging from the networking sessions.
On a more practical level was Lunch Roulette, a service that launched a few years ago to try and connect random people up within an organization for a lunch meeting. You select a date(s) when you’re free for lunch. You then select one of the locations you’d be happy to travel to, and then click the match me button. The system will then match you with the other person, sending both of you calendar reminders.
Alas, the system was rather low-tech, and it never really achieved the results it could have as a result. It’s into this breech that Spark Collaboration jumps. The service began life as Randomised Coffee Trials, which was an attempt to encourage serendipitous encounters in a similar kind of way to Lunch Roulette. The service, developed by Michael Soto and Jon Kingsbury has evolved from there to become a fully fledged software service.
The service has one or two additional features to your typical connecting service. For instance, managers can create groups of employees who they believe should be meeting. They can then assign participants certain business rules, such as how frequently potential ‘dates’ should be setup. They also have an analytics backend so they can see stats around the whole process, including of course how many meet-ups have actually taken place. Participants can add a qualitative element to things by reporting back on each encounter.
It’s a nice approach to a pressing problem. At the moment the service is free for academia and non-profit organizations. Companies will be charged a set-up fee and a user fee, but at the time of press, these fees are still to be determined. Initial results from the service have been promising however, and there’s every indication that this will be another useful tool in the innovators toolkit. You can check out more about Spark via the video below.