What is Coworking? An Opportunity for Serendipity?

Coworking has long been lauded as a way to “accelerate serendipity.”” Melissa Mesku is wondering how you might quantify serendipity [2].

A coworking space is many things, but above all it is a place where a community forms and interacts and collaborates. One thing that happens in a coworking space is that people make unexpected connections, meeting new customers, collaborators, and gurus, learning new skills, and finding unexpected solutions. The Seats2Meet coworking spaces describe themselves as “A Serendipity Machine” [3]. (More on S2M in a future post.)

This is an interesting academic question, and considering the massive amount of enthusiasm in the business press and even the New York Times [1], one that merits serious attention. Extraordinary claims have been made (e.g., “the increased likelihood of an encounter that will add value to a user’s entrepreneurial activity, thus transforming the individual into a superior professional.” ([3], p. 40) with not much evidence to support them.

Defining and quantifying “serendipity” isn’t necessarily easy, not least because it is, by definition, unplanned and unpredictable. There is also the interesting question of appropriate control or comparison groups might be. Coworking spaces might be good places to meet and collaborate, but are they better than other spaces, and if so, what should they be compared to?

Mesku gives some additional food for thought. She is, she says, a veteran coworker, and this serendipity “is something people in coworking know quite well”, but she does not know how to explain what it actually looks like. While many people report concrete results in terms of valuable connections made, contracts gained, collaborations begun, that isn’t the whole story.

“Serendipity is partly about garnering a beneficial result, but the other key part is the process. Or, rather, serendipity means attaining a beneficial result without any process at all. Its unpredictable nature gives it an almost magical quality.”

Mesku recounts serendipity has meant “multiple experiences of delight”.  She also uses words intangible, immeasurable, grateful, touched, proud and delighted. Similar comments have been expressed by many other coworkers [4, 5].

A magical process that makes people happy?

No wonder people like it!

Even if it doesn’t produce “exponential” value, there is something interesting here.

Mesku makes an interesting final comment:

“Serendipity could be written as an algorithm as it is a function of several things. Articulating what those things are would be a major step toward reverse engineering it. Eventually the business world will attempt to harness serendipity in the service of productivity, to mass-produce it, to make it predictable, repeatable. To anyone who earnestly attempts this, I wish them luck.”

In fact many people including Tony Bacigalupo’s Cotivation  folks and the Seats2Meet folks believe they actually do have such an “algorithm” [3]. I will discuss S2M’s approach in a future post.


 

  1. Pagan Kennedy, How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity, in New York Times. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/how-to-cultivate-the-art-of-serendipity.html
  2. Melissa Mesku, Quantifying serendipity, in New Worker Magazine. 2016. http://newworker.co/mag/quantifying-serendipity-in-coworking/
  3. Sebastian Olma, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0, 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
  4. Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice, and Lyndon Garrett, Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review, 93 (8):1-7, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces
  5. Vareska  Van de Vrande,  and Michiel Tempelaar, CREATING COMMUNITIES OF INNOVATION. Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 2015. http://api.rsm.nl/files/index/get/id/1aabed80-8ebb-11e5-8275-c1f4f8ce46f7

 

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