Network Science Meets Serendipity


In December we went to the Connected Commons 2016 Summit at Babson College where academics and industry practitioners came together to look at work through a social lens. Creating serendipity was an unexpected topic.

The Connected Commons is an open source community dedicated to sharing how Social Network Science improves the performance and well-being of individuals, organizations and society in three areas:

  • Innovate and align organizations
  • Empower Talent
  • Enhance Leadership

During his Keynote, Professor Rob Cross, described his recent network science research conducting 130 in-depth interviews with successful professionals across industry, gender, function and career stage.

Exploring the process of how individuals came across solutions to problems he was surprised to find the central importance of serendipity.  Imagine your boss has just assigned you a tough project and you need to collect some background information in order to devise the best strategy to design a solution.  Where do you turn for advice?  A first option is to ask your boss for some suggestions on who to speak to, then of course there’s your most trusted office ally. And you might also reach out to your network for advice to cover all your bases.

What surprised Professor Rob Cross was that time and time again there was another important element which could only be described as a ‘serendipitous encounter.’  A passing conversation or chance run in with someone who provided unexpected information or assistance.


Professor Rob Cross emphasized the “importance of serendipity in building non-insular networks in organization.” We build insular networks because the org chart and the physical design of our workspaces leads us to interact with the same people, day in and day out. As I described in “Serendipity as Strategy,” the physical design of most buildings tends to lead us to interact with the same people (those with desks near ours) and so while some architects are designing spaces with intentional bottlenecks and other techniques to get people talking with others, this creates problems too.  Rob Cross’s five suggestions thankfully manage to promote “casual collisions without the bruises” since you are in more control of determining when to meet rather than being forced by physical design.



Each of these suggestions are things that you can do yourself to bring more serendipity to your own work.  If you would like to learn how Spark Collaboration can help you accomplish this at an organizational level, contact us today.


Michael Soto is the co-founder of Spark Collaboration.  Spark helps organizations connect their stakeholders to share ideas face-to-face. Using Spark, organizations can match stakeholders one-on-one for real-time social interactions. By meeting over coffee, lunch or video, stakeholders can create real social connections that can help them be more connected, innovative and ultimately more productive.

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