Engineering serendipity?

Roland Harwood at NESTA wrote about Engineering Serendipity last week and it’s been on my mind since then. He’s been meeting lots of companies that try to broker relationships between people and their ideas:

With more distributed organisations and specialised knowledge the need for these type of organisations is increasing who can organise integrate knowledge and organise innovation between organsisations. And it’s organisations like Innocentive Kluster, Innovaro, The Disrupters, Innovation Arts, WhatIf and CellCentric that all create value by aggregating knowledge and brokering relationships. I’m going to coin a term and acronymn and describe them as an engineering serendipity businesses (ESB), which I also think is the business NESTA Connect is in too.

I think he’s put his finger on an interesting paradox here, how can we engineer that which is meant to be fortuitous?

My own two cents is that most efforts I’ve witnessed in organisations focus way too much on the engineering and have little faith in the accidental. There’s too much effort to create “innovation processes” as if this is all very complicated and difficult. I tend to think in terms of opening space, creating a simple container for conversation and let structure emerge and fade as needed.

2 thoughts on “Engineering serendipity?

  1. Sean Howard

    Hey Johnny,

    It would be great to see more exploration of creating opportunities for accidental and serendipity. One of the IDEO books (10 Faces of Innovation?) spoke at length about the need for designing spaces that allow for such…


  2. tony joyce


    If I might add another two cents to the discussion, I would recommend adding, Digg and the like to the list of organizations seeking to make a business out of aggregating knowledge. I would add Facebook and Twitter to the list of orginzations trying to find new ways of making a business out of brokering relationships. If we can expand the ESB marketplace in this manner, then it seems the innovation processes in the ESB business model are about how some organizations can make money out of knowledge discovery and knowledge sharing. Perhaps I’m focused too strongly on the business aspects of innovation; it seems few organizations have the stamina and stomach to wait for the structure to emerge when they have to roll products out the door and meet their payrolls.


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